It’s June, it’s sunny, it’s time for some syrupy goodness!
Last week I made my first batch of elderflower cordial; I jumped the gun a bit and went a bit too early so I could only get enough flowers to make a half batch, but now the elderflowers are in full bloom so this is definitely the weekend to go foraging!
I just went out with my trusty foldable bag and miniature secateurs and the flowers are now making my whole kitchen smell like elderflowers and pollen.
Honestly, every summer I subsist almost entirely on my home-made elderflower cordial. A small amount in ice-cold fizzy water is unbelievably refreshing and thirst-quenching. I make up big jugs of it for when people are coming over so I imagine I’ll get through a lot this summer having people out in the garden.
I usually use the River Cottage cordial recipe, which you can find here on their website. You only need 25 elderflower heads and you get a bit over 2 litres of the stuff! It’s drunk heavily diluted so that’ll do you for a while, but I like to make a few batches to do me for the whole summer and preferably into the autumn.
Picking the Elderflowers
Find an elder tree in your area – they should be noticeable enough once you see them with the small white flowers. But if you don’t know of one yourself try joining a local gardening, foraging or zero-waste Facebook group and ask there. People can be really helpful and generous with information on the local area.
Near my house there’s a huge elderflower bush in my local park and a few more along the back of the local school. There’s also a small tree by the allotment, so between all three sites I can get enough elderflowers without having to worry about taking too many from each plant.
If you’re in any doubt about identifying an elder tree, check the flowers and leaf shape. Rowan and Hawthorne trees can look similar, but they have much bigger individual flowers and darker leaves. To check that they’re definitely elderflowers, they should have a really distinctive and strong smell.
Be careful when picking flowers from lower down the tree, it can be easy to mix up low-hanging elderflowers with tall cow parsley growing up from the ground.
That being said, once you know what you’re looking for elderflowers aren’t difficult to recognise, just bring your phone and compare pictures if you’re worried.
Foraging Best Practice
Whenever you’re foraging it’s really important to do it sustainably and anyone who’s into foraging knows that the no1 rule is not to take too much from the plants. Opinions vary on what constitutes a reasonable amount to forage, but last year I did an online workshop on foraging with Woodland Classroom and (if my memory serves me correctly) they said to take a maximum of 1 in 5 of what’s available:
- One for you
- One for wildlife
- One for producing seeds
- One that might be destroyed
- One for foraging later in the year perhaps
Don’t completely strip the tree of flowers, be reasonable about it. Particularly if you intend to forage elderberries later on, there won’t be any if there aren’t any elderflowers left to grow!
Making the Cordial
Follow the actual recipe I use here (River Cottage), but I’ve also described it below in my own words:
- Shake off any insects and guys from the elderflowers and then soak overnight with some orange and lemon zest.
- The next day, strain the liquid through muslin or a jelly bag, add in the other ingredients (sugar, orange and lemon juice and citric acid) and then boil it up into a syrup.
- Make sure you sterilise the bottles you’re going to store it in so it’ll last longer and sterilise the funnel too! And the lids! Either boil them in water for 15 minutes, or stick them in the oven at 150 for 15 minutes. My rule for sterilising anything is always do two more containers than you think you need. You will always need them.
- Then, wearing oven gloves, fill up the bottles very carefully. The syrup is extremely hot and it doesn’t cool down – the sugar retains heat like mad so it’s hotter than you’d assume for a water-based liquid.
Drinking the Cordial
This is my first batch of cordial for the year. The left hand bottle has already been being drunk, I actually got a bit more than that from a half quantity of the River Cottage recipe. The new elderflowers I picked today are soaking and should be ready to go tomorrow!
The cordial is so good heavily diluted with fizzy water. A cm in the bottom of a tall glass is enough to make a refreshing drink.
You can also use elderflower cordial for baking, although I haven’t tried it yet. I’m eyeing up Nancy Birtwhistle’s Elderflower and Lemon Cake – it looks divine and any excuse to get more elderflower into the diet is welcome.
(BTW: I love Nancy and if you aren’t following her stuff, I’d really recommend it. She’s an absolute legend and her book “Clean and Green” is something else!)